Luke Chapter 5:1-11

Here starts Chapter 5. Perhaps this time we can talk about the text that’s here, and not about Q. While hopeful, I’m not optimistic.


1 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ τὸν ὄχλον ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ καὶ ἀκούειν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἑστὼς παρὰ τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ,

2 καὶ εἶδεν δύο πλοῖα ἑστῶτα παρὰ τὴν λίμνην: οἱ δὲ ἁλιεῖς ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ἀποβάντες ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα.

There was pressing (lit = lying on top) him and to hear the word of God, and he was on the harbour (of) Gennesaret, (2) and he saw to boats standing beside the harbour. The fishermen disembarked from them washing the nets.

One of the commentaries I found noted that the body of water in question has four biblical names. We are most familiar with it as the Sea of Galilee. Lake Genneseret is another, as is Lake Tiberias, and the Sea of Chinneroth, which means “heart-shaped”, which the lake is, more or less. Genneseret is also a town on the shore of the lake, and there is an inlet forming something of a peninsula on which this town is situated. Chorazin is at the head of this inlet. Gennesaret is perhaps three miles south and west of Caphernaum along the shore of the lake. Nazareth, OTOH, is a good twenty miles (or more; not sure how accurate the scale on the map is) inland. This separation of Nazareth and the fact that most of the action in Galilee takes place in or near Capheranaum, and none of it takes place in Nazareth is a big part of the reason I think Jesus was actually from Caphernaum. As I said, Mark only mentions Nazareth once, in 1:9. Matthew mentions it thrice. Nazareth scarely plays any role in any of the narrative. The only action that is set there is Jesus return to his home town that we just read in Chapter 4.

I have translated the word as “harbour” in reference to the inlet. Based on no local topographical knowledge, but understanding the principles of geography, it would make sense that fishermen would put their boats in this inlet. Apparently, the lake is prone to sudden and violent storms, so seeking safe harbour would be something a prudent boat owner would do. Also, in this way, I don’t think Luke is actually saying that the lake is named Genneseret. It is not at all necessary, or even a good idea, to read the Greek that way. The Greek word does not naturally mean “lake”, and I tend to suspect that our biblically-trained biblical scholars rather just get this wrong. Rather, I believe that Luke is referring to this inlet that formed something of a natural harbour; and recall that boats were simply drawn up onto the beach, Such a shallow draught and corresponding lack of keel would explain why boats were particularly at risk of capsizing in a storm. There was little to nothing to hold it upright.

1 Factum est autem, cum turba urgeret illum et audiret verbum Dei, et ipse stabat secus stagnum Genesareth

2 et vidit duas naves stantes secus stagnum; piscatores autem descenderant de illis et lavabant retia.

3 ἐμβὰς δὲ εἰς ἓν τῶν πλοίων, ὃ ἦν Σίμωνος, ἠρώτησεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἐπαναγαγεῖν ὀλίγον, καθίσας δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου ἐδίδασκεν τοὺς ὄχλους.

Getting onto one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him from the land to put out (into the water) a little way, sitting in the boat he taught the crowd.

A bit of a bizarre scenario. A stranger, followed by a crowd, comes down the shore and commandeers your boat. Then, he uses it was a lecture platform while you do not very much that’s useful, he having taken you away from a necessary chore of washing your nets. This is all very fanciful, and I’m not sure Luke entirely meant us to take this seriously. As with the passing through the midst of the angry mob in the synagogue, this scene feels a bit whimsical, as if Luke is deliberately playing “once upon a time”. There is a decided lack of a sense of reality in this set-up and description. IMO, at least.

3 Ascendens autem in unam navem, quae erat Simonis, rogavit eum a terra reducere pusillum; et sedens docebat de navicula turbas.

4 ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατολαλῶν, εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα, Ἐπανάγαγε εἰς τὸ βάθος καὶ χαλάσατε τὰ δίκτυα ὑμῶν εἰς ἄγραν.

5 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Σίμων εἶπεν,Ἐπιστάτα, δι’ ὅλης νυκτὸς κοπιάσαντες οὐδὲν ἐλάβομεν, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ῥήματί σου χαλάσω τὰ δίκτυα.

As he paused speaking, he (Jesus) said to Simon, “Put out into the deep (water) and let down your nets into the fish”. (5) And answering, Simon said, “Overseer (lit = one standing near), through the whole night labouring we took up nothing, but on your word I will let down the nets.”

There are several things worth pointing out in this relatively short passage. First, the whole scenario just gets weirder. Now this stranger is telling you to go out into the water and fish. Um, sure. Get right on that, guv’nah. Another is the use of the term I have rendered as “overseer”. This word is used by Luke alone in the NT; and, he only uses it in the gospel and not in Acts. Which immediately sets me off wondering if, indeed, Luke & Acts were written by the same person. Finally, Simon does what the stranger told him, on the stranger’s word alone.

Of course, we really don’t have to marvel at this whole bizarre situation. The meaning, or the intent is clear enough: Luke is demonstrating for us just how compelling a  personality Jesus was, to the point that he can convince some total stranger to do what he asks. If anyone has watched any of  Jessica Jones on Netflix, this all sounds a lot like the villain played by David Tenant, of Dr Who fame. But of course Jesus is not evil, but compelling  in a very good way.

4 Ut cessavit autem loqui, dixit ad Simonem: “Duc in altum et laxate retia vestra in capturam”.

5 Et respondens Simon dixit: “ Praeceptor, per totam noctem laborantes nihil cepimus; in verbo autem tuo laxabo retia”.

6 καὶ τοῦτο ποιήσαντες συνέκλεισαν πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ, διερρήσσετο δὲ τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν.

7 καὶ κατένευσαν τοῖς μετόχοις ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ τοῦ ἐλθόντας συλλαβέσθαι αὐτοῖς: καὶ ἦλθον, καὶ ἔπλησαν ἀμφότερα τὰ πλοῖα ὥστε βυθίζεσθαι αὐτά.

8 ἰδὼν δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος προσέπεσεν τοῖς γόνασιν Ἰησοῦ λέγων, Ἔξελθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός εἰμι, κύριε:

And doing this (i.e. letting out the nets), they enclosed a plethora of fish, breaking through their nets. (7) And they made a sign by nodding their heads to their partners in the other boat of coming to receive with them. And they came, and they filled both the boats so that to sink them.  (8) Seeing this Simon Peter fell to his knees of Jesus, saying, “Go away from me, that I am a sinful man, lord”. 

Here, of course, is the payoff to this story. Jesus knows. If you listen to Jesus, you prosper. I would like to say this is a particularly pagan attitude: do ut des. I give so that you give. The you being God. The idea is that we give something in sacrifice so that God gives us (one hopes) more in return. But this is not a pagan attitude. It’s the rationale behind the story of Job as well. The adversary taunts God by saying, “of course Job is faithful to you. Look at how richly you’ve rewarded him”. And this became a particularly Calvinist, if not Protestant, attitude: all God’s friends are rich. This attitude was carried to the shores of America by the Puritans, who prospered enormously. Remember: we are either saved, or we’re damned, and we can’t know which. But, by their fruits ye shall know them, so monetary wealth was considered the sign of God’s favour, so the wealthy were respected and considered Elect, while the poor despised as Foreknown and damned. This attitude still pervades a lot of religious thinking in 21st Century America: the poor can be disregarded because, what the hell, they’re damned anyway. But–and this is a big but–this attitude was very common among Greeks and Romans, too. The aristoi, the optimates, the best in Greek and Latin respectively were often considered so because of their wealth. Their wealth was an outward sign. This is because hereditary wealth, eventually, bought respectability. The Best Money, after all, was Old Money. Nouveau riche and arriviste are terms of scorn.

So it’s as such, as one who gave, Simon Peter recognised Jesus as “lord”. Jesus could bestow wealth, so he could bestow favour, and Simon immediately understands that he is in the presence of something More. But why does Luke add all these details to the story? This tale is unique to Luke. Looking at this, and at some of the other stories that only Luke has, I’m starting to see a pattern. These stories are what I will call, for want of a better term, amplifiers. That is, they are designed to amplify the impact of some aspect of Jesus’ life and divine status. I suppose magnify would also work, but whatever. Others stories that would fall into this would be the stories of the birth of the Baptist, which amplifies the nativity of Jesus narrative by elevating the status of the herald of Jesus to come. Another would be the way he passed through the midst of the angry crowd in Nazareth*, which demonstrated that Jesus’ power, his ability to perform miracles was certainly not dependent on the faith of those around him. And now here; it’s not enough to call Peter; he has to demonstrate his ability. Thinking about it, this in some ways diminishes Jesus: in the other two gospels, Peter follows without question. Here, he does so only after a huge demonstration of power. But, one can certainly look at that in a couple of different ways. 

So is that what Luke is doing? Amplifying?  Is that his overall intention, or goal? To say ‘yes’ is to be fairly obvious. After all, that’s a lot of what Matthew did, starting with the Nativity story. He amplified Jesus’ divinity, starting with the virgin birth and the Star of Bethlehem. Luke is really doing the same, here and in the other episodes mentioned. Now, I would love to tie this into the Q argument, and I think it would be a legitimate thing to do, but the bottom line is that it’s not necessary. Either way, we’re witnessing the process by which legends grow. Luke was doing this, either on his own or following the example of Matthew. I suspect the latter, of course, but let’s wait a bit to see if this is borne out by the subsequent narrative, whether it seems that Luke is building specifically on Matthew. If so, the pattern has not fully emerged.

*Nazareth: it only just occurs to me that this amplifier was designed to banish the idea that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in Nazareth, due to the lack of faith of the townspeople. No miracles? Nonsense! Jesus’ power is not dependent on the faith of those around him.

6 Et cum hoc fecissent, concluserunt piscium multitudinem copiosam; rumpebantur autem retia eorum.

7 Et annuerunt sociis, qui erant in alia navi, ut venirent et adiuvarent eos; et venerunt et impleverunt ambas naviculas, ita ut mergerentur.

8 Quod cum videret Simon Petrus, procidit ad genua Iesu dicens: “Exi a me, quia homo peccator sum, Domine”.

9 θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἄγρᾳ τῶν ἰχθύων ὧν συνέλαβον,

10 ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου, οἳ ἦσαν κοινωνοὶ τῷ Σίμωνι. καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ φοβοῦ: ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν.

11 καὶ καταγαγόντες τὰ πλοῖα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἀφέντες πάντα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

Amazement encompassed him and all those with him regarding the catch of fish which they had taken, (and) (10) in the same way also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were with Simon, and Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now you will be one catching men”. (11) And driving the ship down upon the land, all having gotten off they followed him.

In the commentary to this on Mark, I suggested that, if Jesus had grown up on Caphernaum as I suspect, the way Peter & c left to follow Jesus would make much more sense. We know Peter was a follower; Paul verified that before any of these gospels were written. Notice that there is no mention of Andrew, Peter’s brother. He will come in later, probably when the Twelve are being named. In 2M, Andrew is mentioned exactly twice; at the initial calling, and when Jesus sends them out. Luke skips the first one. Interesting to note that as the legend of Jesus grew, the legend of Andrew had faded a bit. Now, this would be recovered since Andrew had a great career in front of him, ending up as the patron saint of Scotland. But it is worth noting that he is not here. The point being, that if Jesus had grown up in Caphernaum, then he and Peter would likely have known each other all their lives. This, in turn, would explain Peter’s eventual devotion and dedication to Jesus.

Something just occurred to me. Back in Chapter 4, after Jesus left the synagogue, he went to the house of Simon, where Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law so she could wait on them. I didn’t realize it then, but we had not yet been introduced to Simon when that happened. Good gracious boy howdy, would I ever like to spin some really interesting theories on how this “proves” that Jesus had grown up in Caphernaum, and had known Simon before the point when Jesus called him. However, it’s much more likely that Luke just sort of muddled the chronology a bit. He kept the story of going to Simon’s house in more or less its original context per Mark, without really noticing that he hadn’t actually introduced Simon yet. It’s similar to the way that the Baptist was arrested before he baptized Jesus. Oops. So, as deliberate as Luke was, he was more concerned with the overall story than he was with stuff like chronological consistency. This is important to note, because it plays a big role in how Luke treats the material he inherited, which would include Mark, either Q or Matthew, and probably other traditions. 

I have believe that I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating. At some point I read it suggested that James the son of Zebedee is no other than James the Just, the brother of the lord. I have a nagging sense that I brought this up before but dismissed it for whatever reason(s). If so, this is a good time to revisit that. This is pure speculation, but it would really make a lot of sense. The two people that Paul corroborates as members of the Jerusalem community are James, brother of the lord, and Peter. Here we have Peter and James. Being the son of  Zebedee really doesn’t pose any problem, since the name of Jesus’ father is problematic. Had Jesus’ father died some time ago, and had Mary then married Zebedee and had sons named James and John, then this would be a very tidy explanation. James, brother of Jesus, is only mentioned by Paul, and yet James son of Zebedee plays a consistent part in all four gospels. A brother named James is mentioned in Mark 6, when Jesus’ siblings are named. It would then make that Jesus was called “son of Mary” since his own father was dead, and his mother married to someone else. The fly in the ointment is that Mark 6 does not mention a John, but you can’t always have everything, And really, this feels like one of those theories that is too clever by half. Yes, it ties up a lot of loose ends, but that is part of the problem. It’s a little too neat. Real life usually isn’t quite so tidy, and this general slovenliness is what gives credence to conspiracy theories. Someone opening an umbrella on a sunny day in Dallas may be odd, but that does not mean it’s significant. Maybe he opened the umbrella to use as a parasol against the sun, but the people behind objected to having their view blocked. Same here. It would explain a lot of things, but…But I am leaning towards it, tidiness be damned. It fits, and nicely. Too nicely? Perhaps. It requires more pondering, but in the end, it’s one of those things on which one can change one’s mind every six months for the rest of one’s life and still never be able to make up one’s mind. 

This is an update. It occurred to me that I hadn’t addressed the idea of Simon & the brothers leaving everything behind to follow him. In fact, I haven’t addressed this at all, in any of the gospels. However, I don’t think tacking this on to the very end of a post is the proper time & place to consider the topic; rather, I’ll save it for the Summary.

9 Stupor enim circumdederat eum et omnes, qui cum illo erant, in captura piscium, quos ceperant;

10 similiter autem et Iacobum et Ioannem, filios Zebedaei, qui erant socii Simonis. Et ait ad Simonem Iesus: “ Noli timere; ex hoc iam homines eris capiens ”.

11 Et subductis ad terram navibus, relictis omnibus, secuti sunt illum.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on April 30, 2017, in Chapter 5, gospel commentary, gospels and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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